Russia Triumphant over Host Canada
Published: May 20, 2008 (Issue # 1374)
Getting a Canadian to swallow his or her pride after a monumental world hockey championship loss on home soil and to look at the bigger picture is a tough task indeed. Let this Canadian living in St. Petersburg then not wallow in misery after a game fairly played to write on the broader theme of sports and society. Forgive me if I wax a bit poetic in the shadow of defeat.
Canada and Russia have over the years shared a great hockey legacy with both a fierce rivalry and sense of sportsmanship that highlights the positive role sport can play in international relations. When Russians think of Canada one of the first things they speak of is hockey. There is a shared understanding through hockey among our two northern nations with legends and heroes that youngsters have looked up to as role models. An IIHF Centennial All-Star Team was named this year with one Canadian, Wayne Gretzky (“the great one”), and four Russians, Sergei Makarov, Valery Kharlamov, Vladislav Tretyak and Vyacheslav Fetisov.
Though sporting events sometimes reach such a fevered pitch that hooligans react with violence outside of the stadiums and arenas, one message is that competition does not have to be played in a spirit of conflict, but with a sense of mutual respect for the game and for the opponent. It is the triumphalism of “world power” that obscures victory in athletic competitions after the winners and losers are awarded their just due. Let us hope the new-found nationalism in Russia after celebrations on the streets of Russia following Zenit St. Petersburg’s and now the national hockey team’s victory, does not extend to the realm of seeking a return to super-power world-status in an unhealthy way. In sports as in society, sooner or later one’s ego is always subdued.
Watching the tournament, the semifinals and the final, I can say that the best team won. Russia is back at the pinnacle of world hockey once again. The final was a great game, really a wonderful finish for the 100th anniversary of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). Canada’s Prime Minster, Stephen Harper was of course on hand in Quebec, anxiously watching the events unfold. Yet there were Russian flags and “Ru-ssi-a” chants echoing through the stadium as well. There was no animosity or fighting among the spectators, just a closely fought match with a rollercoaster of goals and lead changes.
Hockey, it is said, is almost a religion for some people in Canada. “This is a hockey mad-country,” said Alexander Ovechkin, one of the most talented players in the game today; an intimidating force on ice. His 65 goals in the NHL were the first time a player scored more than 60 goals since 1995-1996.
However, the one who tamed the hockey-mad Canadians was Ilya Kovalchuk. “God was on our side a little more than them,” claimed Kovalchuk.
Scoring his first goal of the tournament to send the game into overtime and then the overtime winner, Kovalchuk may be the keenest interpreter of the divine inspiration of the current epoch for loyal Russian hockey fans.
It may be fitting for the Canadians to be humbled in front of their home crowd. But not only was this a symbolic event for world hockey, it also sets off events marking the 400th birthday of the city of Quebec, which hosted the final. What better way than at the hockey rink for Canada to be a generous host?
They say pride comes before the fall. Let’s hope this is springtime for Russian sports that will lead to a blossoming of talent in the Beijing Summer Olympic Games and then onwards to the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
“We all know that the Olympics are the measuring stick... If you’re talking about supremacy in hockey, you talk about the Olympics,” noted Canadian Coach Ken Hitchcock. The U.S.S.R won an Olympic gold medal in hockey at the 1988 Calgary Games in Canada. Let’s see what happens in Vancouver 2010 and then Sochi 2014! Bring it on!
Gregory Sandstrom is a PhD student in Sociology at St. Petersburg State University, sports fan of all sorts and Olympic Games guest correspondent.